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Archive for Monday, July 15, 2013

Editorial: Budget balance

County officials must weigh many budget priorities, but controlling the burden on county taxpayers should be closer to the top.

July 15, 2013

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The price of government is going up.

Unless something presumably unexpected happens at a public hearing July 31, Douglas County will approve a budget for the coming year that will raise property taxes by around 4.8 percent. It’ll be too bad if that happens.

In a struggling local economy, with downsizing and layoffs still occurring, with Kansas University taking it in the shorts from the state, with Haskell Indian Nations University getting hit by the sequester, and with exorbitant residential and small-business utility increases on the table, the county got a pleasant surprise when the assessed valuation of property on which it could levy taxes remained stable. It would have been possible to maintain the status quo of the property tax burden on county residents, but instead the elected commissioners decided to implement a tax hike so they could address what they saw as important needs.

Of course arguments can be made in favor of the programs and decisions that swelled the tax burden.

Certainly some employees deserve raises, including a budgeted 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment: $821,000. Taxpayers who recently lost jobs or took pay cuts no doubt concur.

Boosting the local community corrections program: $109,513. Not to detract from the value of surveillance officers, but how are priorities determined and balanced?

Picking up the slack from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for lab tests for sexually transmitted diseases: $20,470. Thanks, governor and Legislature. Why’s that now a county responsibility?

Creating a contingency fund to continue positions financed by grant money if other state support evaporates: $130,000. Well, well. Shouldn’t all of us taxpayers have such contingency money readily at hand in case of tax increases?

Joe and Jane Taxpayer seem, in fact, to be the forgotten parties in budget considerations. But, maybe all the largesse from the reduction in the state sales tax — oh, yeah, that didn’t really happen. Well, maybe that decrease in the state income tax — you say it doesn’t affect everyone the same?

The county, of course, has to evaluate programs and determine spending priorities, but the top priority should be not placing an additional burden on county taxpayers.

Comments

Charles L Bloss Jr 1 year, 5 months ago

I wish they would consider retired persons, living on fixed incomes. We are being taxed out of our homes, that we worked most of our life for. We planned on staying in our homes until we pass on, but not if these people keep raising taxes. I wish they would do away with property taxes completely, and raise the sales tax so everyone would pay their fair share. As property owners we are constantly penalized for working hard all our lives, so we have a nice home and car. I am sick and tired of having to bear the burden for overzealous, unfair raises in property taxes. Every time they raise the taxes, we have to give up something we need, like food and medicines. Jim Flory apparently is the only one on our side, God Bless him.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

With the state cutting services, the choice for local cities and counties is to similarly cut services, or raise taxes to maintain them.

It will be very unfortunate if people get upset with the local areas, rather than understanding that decisions at the state level put them in that position.

George Lippencott 1 year, 5 months ago

No the state did not. Nobody mandated that the county accept those expenditures.

Two of our lawgivers accepted on our behalf with little or no dialogue. I though that as an enlightened county we favored discussion as opposed to imposition.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

Come on.

When the state cuts funding for various things, then local entities have to choose between raising more revenue or cutting services - that's obvious, isn't it?

Should we have had a public debate about the issue? Maybe, but that's a different point.

George Lippencott 1 year, 5 months ago

Not really. Nobody made us accept responsibility for the state service cuts. Two of our three county law givers made that determination with almost no dialogue

I though we as an enlightened civic structure believed in dialogue as oppose to imposition.

George Lippencott 1 year, 5 months ago

Thank you for standing up for those of us on fixed incomes. The insatiable appetite of our various lawgivers is hard on us.

When I was younger the decision to raise taxes was usually undertaken with some effort at consensus. There was a need for civic leadership to demonstrate need to obtain buy in by a significant majority or the leaders would be quickly retired.

Today we have formula to determine just how much tax should be extracted from the citizens. Those formulas consider, among other things, the annual income increases of the majority of the citizens.

We are blessed with two large government entities that , despite howls to the contrary, have rewarded their employees with total income increases that are on average considerably greater than inflation

When the tax man takes $100 of the $500 annual increase in income one is much more accepting of the increase – in a sense sharing your gain with others. Unfortunately, those of us not working for the government have nor shared in their beneficence.

No amount of rational dialogue will dissuade our tax determiners as they have studies that show that on average the tax payers can afford and will accept the increase. They care not about those of us with below average income gains.

I cannot help but wonder if such an attitude might have something to do with our shrinking private sector where data shows that the average employee is not keeping up with inflation let alone seeing an improvement in their financial condition from which the tax man could benefit with less pain.

The first thing one needs to consider when applying the recommendations of studies is that the study in fact represents the reality of the conditions found on the ground

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

If you don't like the decisions made by elected officials, you can vote against them next time around, and vote for people whose philosophy and priorities are more in line with yours.

It's hard in a diverse society to make everybody happy, that's for sure!

George Lippencott 1 year, 5 months ago

But then I was not talking about making everybody happy. I was observing there was little dialogue (with those of us not part of the favored groups here in Lawrence) before the increase was pronounced.

I was also noting that some people are hurt more by tax increases than others. There seems to be little regard for that reality.

There seems to be a bias against "blue collar" working people while professing great concern for the "poor" and the non-working of our society. AS I observed most of our community are probably not much bothered by the increase

That means voting is useless as those being hurt are in the minority and are voting with their feet. Lawrence like Lake Wobegon is the place where everybody is above average because those below average cannot live here unless on the "dole".

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

That's a fundamental problem with democracy, in that minorities (sometimes large ones) lose in many cases, unless there are basic nationwide rights involved.

As far as I know, there's not an easy way to solve it. I suppose we could try to have some sort of proportional representation, but that creates a set of new problems.

College towns in general have a higher cost of living relative to wages than non-college towns - it's just one of the downsides. But then they have upsides like variety of ethnic restaurants, arts/culture, etc.

Not everybody wants to live in a college town, nor should they. There are other mixes of positive and negative attributes in other kinds of towns.

George Lippencott 1 year, 5 months ago

All true. But our leaders can be aware of those of whom I speak. We do not have to have everything everybody wants.

Being really cynical I understand the dynamic where upper middle class people when in control of the government structure a society to their liking. Making it expensive to live here limits who can and that is one of the goals.

The reality does not bother me much as I benefit from it. It is the hypocrisy that paints what is being done as caring and progressive that sickens me.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

Since we can't possibly have everything everybody wants, because everybody wants different things, the problem isn't easily solved.

That's fascinating - you don't mind the situation since you benefit from it? But, from past posts, you're retired on a fixed income, and are very much opposed to tax increases. Also, I'm not sure I agree with your characterization. People vote for a community that they want, which means voting for a variety of amenities. The outcome may be that it's expensive to live here, and that may limit who can, but I don't think that's the goal.

For example, people wanted a better library, or a new sports complex, etc. Maybe a few at the very top want to "keep out the riffraff", so to speak, but I suspect most people don't think that way. I know that I don't, and the people I know don't.

George Lippencott 1 year, 5 months ago

Really? I bet you are one of the few white people with no racial bias.

I am not opposed to tax increases. I am opposed to knee jerk every year tax increases. You would think that over time we could occasionally reduce taxes - but we never do. I know the need is great and we must give one of our support groups what it wants every year or be thrown out.

I think what I actually have advocated for is that as a civilized society we need to cap the amount the governments can take from their citizens. "The power to tax is the power to destroy". We need to control that power. Once we install a majority with little consequence from tax increases the minorities are forfeit. We seem to scream so much about minorities on here yet we are apparently very selective as to which ones we hold dear.

Lawrence is somewhat unique in Kansas. It has an intelligent well paid citizenry willing to pay taxes for government services. As I wrote, it can afford it.

The rest of Kansas by and large is not so understanding. That is why in part we have Mr. Brownback. He has been trying to arrest the government's share of the population's income. Since at that level there seems to be a majority in favor I guess that is just the other side of the coin and all the complaints about it in these pages are just sour grapes.

Consistency would be appreciated. Hypocrisy is never becoming.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

I may have my biases, including racial ones. But, I don't vote yes or no on tax increases and tax funded projects based on them. I decide whether or not I think the project is a good or necessary one, and whether or not it's a good time for it.

I voted against the library expansion, and would vote against the sports complex, if given the chance.

Minorities who don't get their way always complain about it, as far as I can tell. They can't really do anything else about it. What's your point?

What tax increases have you supported? I can't remember any.

And, what "cap" would you like? Also, given our diverse population and views, why should we pick yours? What if we all have different ideas about how much we should pay in taxes, and what sort of tax funded programs/services we should have? That seems to me the reality of the situation.

So, KS is now oriented towards cutting taxes (sort of, not across the board, and favoring certain people/businesses), and cutting funding for state funded services. People who prefer different sorts of taxation policies and state funding are unhappy about it. If the situation were reversed, the roles would reverse as well.

There is some sort of self selection at work, in that people will often choose to live in areas that are in line with their views - thus, people unhappy about KS may move elsewhere, and people who want this sort of thing may move here.

By the way, Brownback was elected by 1/3 of the eligible voters in KS - about 1/2 of them simply stayed home. And, many people who voted for him are now upset with what he's doing. So, I wouldn't conclude that his actions represent any sort of "will of the people" or even "will of the majority".

George Lippencott 1 year, 5 months ago

Will you buy the will of those willing to go to the polls??

It is a shame that for people like me I have only two choices. Tax an spend and "starve the beast" I would like a more rational set of choices

I voted for the library and the T. I also voted for the school bond although I did so holding my nose as it appeared to be a program tailored to an amount rather than a need. I would likely vote for a more ordered law enforcement environment but now that the city crammed a recreations center down my throat while violating city processes I may never vote for anything the city wants ever again.

I did not get to vote for either of the two big county increases and I can only vote for one commissioner - guess which one.

You surprise me. By your comments I have considered you someone who believes in the voice of the people and a fair process to determine it.

I believe that we must check the zeal of the majority to protect the minorities. Mob rule is unbecoming!

I also do not believe that any of the county commissioners ran on a platform to raise taxes by 25%??

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

Nope.

The will of about 2/3 of those who went to the polls, yes.

And that's your right, both to vote for and/or against those sorts of things. That's where we get to have input. But, majority wins again there.

There is no such thing as "the voice of the people" in such a diverse nation. That's the point, and the problem. You continue to paint as evil somehow one of the basic ways in which our democracy works - what's your alternative? Do you think we should all get to vote on all tax projects? That would be cumbersome at best, and also somewhat take away from the point of electing representatives.

I understand your dilemma - and you're not the only one who wishes we had more good choices, and finds both the D and R unsatisfying. It's a problem - my only advice is to vote for the better of the two choices, and try to nudge them in the direction you think they ought to go.

Oh also, I'm sure they didn't run on that platform. But, generally speaking D will favor taxes and government programs, and R will prefer lower taxes and less government spending.

I see about a 5% increase in property taxes mentioned, not anywhere near 25%.

George Lippencott 1 year, 5 months ago

Couple of year ago. I do not live in the present alone.

bevy 1 year, 5 months ago

I am still so flabbergasted by the use of the phrase "taking it in the shorts" in this award-winning newspaper's editorial that I cannot muster any energy to make a comment about the other points being made in it.

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